Computer basics & buyer guideComputer basics

Confused by all the terminology? Let this be a guide to help you out :

Phrase :"It's a Pentium 233MMX with 512K cache, 32Megs of RAM, 3.1 Gig hard drive, 64-bit, 4Meg video card, 24x CD-ROM, 33.6 modem, and sound card".

What the HECK does THAT mean???

The following will cover ALL this, and more . . .

A BIT is the smallest piece of information a computer understands. If you hear 32-bit or 64-bit processing, it means it's handling 32 or 64 bits of data at one time - more is better.
REAL WORLD EXAMPLE : Data path : "it's a 64-bit video card"

BANDWIDTH : The width of the data path. Similar to how many lanes on a highway. A 8 lane highway will move more cars than a 2-lane highway if the speed limit is the same for both. A 64-bit data path will move more info than a 16-bit data path.

A BYTE. A single character, which is eight bits = one byte. The letter "A" represents one byte or eight bits, so does the number "1" and the character "~", etc. The following line uses 37 bytes : "This is a test, this is only a test". 37 bytes because computers count spaces between letters as a byte. 1000 bytes are expressed as 1Kb (which is actually 1024bytes - don't ask!), and 1000Kb is a MEGABYTE (MB) or 1,024,000 bytes.

MEGAHERTZ (MHz) : No. of cycles per second - analogous to RPM's in an engine, the more MHz, the more work gets done per second.

TRANSFER SPEED : How much data gets from point A to point B in a given time. Modem measure in BITS per second, and other devices are measured in MEGABYTES per second.

CPU = Central Processing Unit. The primary piece of computing hardware - determines how fast something can be computed : example, if you spell check a large document, a faster CPU can "check" the spelling quicker (and compute numbers in spreadsheets and games). There are two types of speed determination - Processor type and processor speed. Current "types" are Pentium (which is now obsolete), Pentium w/ MMX, and Pentium II. Common "speeds" are 166MHz, 200MHz, 233MHz, 266MHz, and 300MHz (there are others, but these are most common). Generally the next "higher" TYPE of CPU is as fast as the "lower" type running at the next faster speed. An example : A Pentium 166MMX can do about as much work as a normal Pentium at 200MHz. REAL WORLD EXAMPLE : "It's a Pentium 233MMX"









233MHz   x x
266MHz     x
300MHz     x

RAM = Random Access Memory. The "active" work area for the computer. Think of how much better you can put together a 5000pc puzzle on a large table vs. a card table. Basically more area = faster work, and the ability to work on more "puzzles" at a time. REAL WORLD EXAMPLE : "This computer has 32Megs of RAM"

CACHE (Pron. CASH) : A secondary type of very fast RAM. The definition of it's function is complex, but suffice it to say that it makes the computer faster. A 166MHz machine with 256K cache is about as fast as a 200MHz machine without any cache. Most machines today have 256K or 512K of cache. more is better, but only to a certain extent - any more than 512K won't make any noticeable difference to the average user. REAL WORLD EXAMPLE : "This computer has 512K of pipeline-burst cache" - don't worry about the pipeline-burst stuff.

Video card : Determines how many colors can be "drawn" and how fast and accurate the drawing can be. Think of how accurate the colors of a picture is with 65,000 colors vs 16 colors, and having 20 hands to draw vs 2. Video cards have RAM which handles only video functions - so if you have a large table for your puzzles, the video card is a painting room- more area here means more capacity to hold colors and more room to draw them. They also have their own processors, which usually advertise just their bandwidth. REAL WORLD EXAMPLE : "This computer has a 4 meg, 64-bit video card"

CD-ROM :Allows you to load current software stored on CD-ROM's. Measured in multiples of Compact Disc player speed, which corresponds to transfer rates in multiples of 150Kb / second. A 12x CD-ROM can move 150KB/sec times 12 = 1800KB/sec or 1.8MB/sec.

DVD-ROM :Allows you to load current software stored on DVD's. Measured in multiples of commercial DVD player speed.

Hard Drive : Storage area for information - different from RAM, but uses the same measurement for capacity. Measured in megabytes or gigabytes (1GIGABYTE = 1000 MEGABYTES) Storage for Windows, programs, games, etc. REAL WORLD EXAMPLE : "This computer has a 3.1 Gig (short for gigabyte) hard drive"

Modem : Allows access to Internet, e-mail, etc. Measured in BITS per second. REAL WORLD EXAMPLE : "It's a 33,600 bit-per second (or 33.6Kbps) modem"

Monitor : Pretty self-explanatory. Screen size is measured like a TV (15" screen = 15" diagonal). There are more issues like maximum resolution, but new monitors today have similar specifications.

Sound Card : Gives great sound quality for games, messages, etc. They can be attached to specially purchased speakers, or even attached to your home stereo system. Some come with software to create & edit sound files.

Drive letters : Think of a DRIVE LETTER as the name (or address) of a building
a FOLDER (or subdirectory) as a room,
a FILE is a book.

This should help you out, because you can always add folders to a drive (like adding rooms to a building), and you can store "books" in a "room".

So if you have a "book" called LEASE FORM.DOC, to go get it you must know what building and room it is in. (EXAMPLE : S:\SHARED\ADMIN\LEASE FORM.DOC). You have to enter "building" S, then go to room SHARED, then to room ADMIN, and in there you'd find LEASE FORM.DOC.

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